Jazz Up Your Holiday Season
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The sounds of Christmas are upon us!
Publication: Louisiana Weekly
Author: Geraldine Wyckoff
Date: November 21, 2011
Harry Connick, Jr. Trio
The Happy Elf
With a cover decked out with all the bells and whistles of a holiday album directed at children – an illustration of a plump Santa Claus, a Christmas tree and smiling elves – one would naturally presume that Harry Connick, Jr.’s CD, The Happy Elf , was filled with music for toddlers. However, that’s not quite the case. The release does stand as a companion disc to the noted pianist and vocalist’s picture book for kids of the same name. Musically, however, it goes beyond hum along tunes for the younger set.
The album begins with Connick narrating The Happy Elf book, that has also been produced as a stage musical. The tale of the kind elf who was just crazy about Christmas could act as a heart-warming, Yuletide bedtime story for children. The first cut, also dubbed “The Happy Elf,” follows through in spirit with its joyful and danceable demeanor. Connick and his trio with part-time New Orleans resident, bassist Neal Caine and long-time drummer Arthur Latin, playfully sleigh ride into a jazz mode that can engage parents and children alike. Importantly, it, like the following, easy-going “Santarrific” doesn’t play down to the kids. Rather the tunes act as an introduction to jazz and blues that could, hopefully, lead to a love of the music.
The Marsalis Music label has offered Connick, who is heard on Columbia Records for his other, usually bigger ensemble and vocal projects, a place to let his piano playing shine. This is the Grammy award winning and native New Orleanian’s fourth project for the label that is owned by his good friend and Habitat for Humanity partner Branford Marsalis. So on this and Connick’s other Marsalis Music discs, his keyboard expertise, much to the delight of many of his fans, is at its essence. His sidemen also benefit from the extra space as heard on numerous occasions.
Latin jumps insistently in on drums at the start of cut four, “Naughty Children of Bluesville,” a rather demanding tune that might be best appreciated by adults as the kids drift off to dreamland. Bassist Caine gets the nod to open the, of course, bluesy “Bluesville.” Any stubborn sleepyheads should find this easy-going song coaxing their noggins to the pillow while their folks take in the syncopated weaving of Connick and his rhythm section.
The album includes some rather adventurous outings for Connick who is perhaps best known for his melodic approach. He flies free on the creative “The What Song.” This cut could probably stump a few experts in a “Name that Artist” test. Go Harry…
The pianist is more of who many expect him to be on an album fav, “Two Scoops of Christmas.” He displays his New Orleans roots and flair on this, happy and a little slinky tune. Throw in some boogie-woogie and Connick comes home for the holidays. Ditto for “The Magic Hat,” on which he offers a bit of a second line beat.
Except for the narrated story at the beginning, The Happy Elf contains music for all occasions. Connick and his cohorts strut their stuff unencumbered in the spirit of jazz.